Your client is sitting on the other side of the desk. You’ve wrapped up the small talk and you’re both halfway through your mugs of coffee. So how do you bring up the topic of annuities?

There’s no single best way to begin the annuities conversation, says John Roberts, marketing director for Orange County, Calif.-based TWH Annuities and Insurance Agency Inc. in a blog originally posted on the InsuranceWebX site. “It all depends on the depth of your relationship with a client,” Roberts says, adding that the approach varies according to how long and how well you know the client. You’d have to tailor your approach depending on whether the client is a new referral, someone you met at a networking function, someone who’s been a health or life client for many years, or a friend or relative.

Roberts warns against using a repertoire of standard approaches, which can come across as a hard sell. “Please don’t come up with 10 best opening lines,” he warns. “Everybody can smell it coming, and what good intelligent people want is conversation, not a sales pitch. Don’t sell – listen.”

There is a big difference between using old and tired lines and asking clients some thought-provoking questions. Roberts says that although agents shouldn’t have opening lines, there are some conversation starters that work to facilitate a give-and-take dialogue. Agents can include questions in conversations to elicit responses that will help determine whether annuities are appropriate for the client – or not.

Gregory B. Gagne, founding member of Affinity Investment Group in Kewaskum, Wis., recommends in a LifeHealthPro article that advisors ask, “Do you want to run out of money before you run out of time, or do you want to create a plan that will provide income to you for as long as you live?” The message then is one of self-reflection, Gagne says.

“Allow the prospect to pick the answer. We think the answer is obvious, but the prospect may have never given the idea any thought before you bring it to their attention,” he adds.

According to Retirement Designers, the right approach is essential to help the client connect emotionally with the advisor, the product and long-term goals. “Sometimes all that is required is the correct language to get the conversation started,” they add.

Here are some questions that might get clients thinking about goals and set the stage for a longer conversation on annuities:

For starters:

When was the last time you evaluated your retirement finances?

Would you be confident in your finances if you decided to retire today?

What are your three biggest concerns about your retirement finances?

To continue the dialogue and steer the conversation toward fixed indexed annuities:

Do you feel that your assets will last through your retirement years, or are you worried about running out of money? 

What if you could arrange to earn a reliable income stream after you retire?

Is it important to you to keep your principal safe from market fluctuations? 

Are you hoping to create a lasting legacy for loved ones?

These simple conversation starters – which aren’t opening statements – will encourage the client or prospect to respond with a clarifying question, a statement that retirement finances are already on the right track or a request for further explanation. At the very least, asking these questions might prompt some self-reflection. “Relax and listen, then inject a few comments (if appropriate) by sensing the direction you can move the conversation,” Roberts advises.